Despite having asked Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller last year, Trump had, until a few days ago, been fairly careful in public not to attack Mueller himself. Now suddenly he’s gone on the offensive and CNN explains why — because his attorneys met with Mueller’s people last week and they now know what kinds of questions he wants to ask of Trump.
Mueller’s team added granularity to the topics it originally discussed with the defense team months ago, like the firing of FBI Director James Comey, according to one of the sources. This time around, for instance, the prosecutors said they would ask about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ involvement in the Comey dismissal and what Trump knew about national security adviser Michael Flynn’s phone calls with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December 2016.
The meeting makes clear that Mueller’s investigation into contact between Russians and the Trump campaign and other criminal matters isn’t likely to end anytime soon and still may focus on Trump and what he knew. The meeting and its revelations also have unleashed a new level of Trump’s public hostility toward Mueller, even while some of the President’s advisers show a willingness to negotiate Trump’s testimony…
One source familiar with the matter said the President has vacillated on agreeing to an interview in recent months. Trump was interested in speaking with Mueller’s team if the probe would end soon, as his lawyers had long promised, another source said. But once the President realized Mueller’s work isn’t nearing a conclusion, he’s become more agitated and has lashed out on Twitter.“They (the legal team) created the expectation that the probe was going to be done in December,” and that expectation, plus the recent discussions and a subpoena of Trump Organization documents, set the President off.
Both sides could reach an agreement about the proposed sit-down interview — and whether they’ll even allow it — in the coming weeks, according to a source familiar with the matter.
I’m frankly not sure why Mueller is even bothering with negotiations at this point, and perhaps Trump’s tirade on Twitter will make him fed up enough that he stops. Ultimately, he holds the cards here. There is no precedent by which Trump could refuse a subpoena requiring him to testify before a grand jury, so the only reason to negotiate is out of either courtesy or strategy. But it must be clear by now that the only goal of Trump’s attorneys is to keep him from screwing himself by testifying, which means the only correct strategy is to prevent them from limiting that exposure.
If I were Mueller, I would simply issue a subpoena and set a date. Trump and his attorneys would then have a choice: Quickly try to negotiate the most favorable terms they can and go forward with his testimony, or publicly refuse to do so and end up being forced to by the courts, without such relatively favorable terms. And Trump would absolutely go ballistic over it.